The Prime Minister and NSW Premier were asked to fast-track funding to support key industries in the Snowy Valleys ravaged by fire and to back projects designed to stimulate the economy when they toured the Batlow and Tumbarumba regions on Wednesday.
Scott Morrison and Gladys Berejiklian were joined by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Wagga MP Joe McGirr, as well as RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons and Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner Paul Baxter, in the region for a rare congregation of the nation’s political leaders.
They travelled to orchards and berry farms, met with fire-fighters in Batlow and Tumbarubma, and spoke with those impacted by the fire.
Snowy Valleys mayor James Hayes said he hoped the tour meant the PM and Premier were now cognisant of the losses suffered, and the ongoing implications to the region.
Key industries such as forestry, horticulture, agriculture and tourism have been hit hard by the Dunns Road fire and the mayor noted yesterday’s visit by politicians was just one of many to have occurred, and many more that will follow.
“Our main aim is to get the people making decisions to understand what’s occurred and what needs to happen,” Cr Hayes said. “Some will get it, some won’t. I know the Deputy Prime Minister does.
“There’ll be many more meetings, but we’re asking for that support to start coming through quickly. We need to instil confidence back in the community.”
Alongside support for those key industries, the council is asking for an injection of funding for projects such as the Brindabella Road, whilst fast-tracking other planned projects such as the $50m Tumut Hospital.
“We want that hospital project to start right away,” Cr Hayes said. “Nothing gives people confidence like seeing something rise from the ground. The construction of that hospital would provide an immediate boost for our economy.”
He said the Tumbarumba to Rosewood rail trail remained a priority, albeit one that had lost momentum during the fire period, when work had ceased.
“We’ve lost about a month there. The Tumbarumba people are passionate about that project and even though we’ve hit some hurdles, we want to get that done,” he said.
“We’ll also be asking for funding for some of the other blue sky projects we’ve identified in our advocacy plan.”
That advocacy plan includes project such as a multi-purpose centre at Tumut, development of industrial lands, a softwoods centre of excellence, and greater communications infrastructure across the region.
Mr Morrison said Wednesday’s visit was an opportunity to meet and say thank you to some of the volunteers and first responders involved in battling the recent bushfire that swept through the area.
“And it was important to understand the challenges being faced by the orchardists and farmers in the area,” Mr Morrison said.
“It was also a chance to thank some of the Defence Force personnel involved in the ongoing response to these terrible bushfires.
“It was an insightful and humbling day. The community I met today showed incredible spirit as they get on with the hard work of rebuilding lives and the livelihoods of local businesses impacted and we’ll be there supporting them every step of the way.”
The mayor said he’d asked that the federal and NSW governments consider holding a cabinet meeting in Tumut, so all ministers can visit the region to better understand the challenges.
The council is in the process of setting up a range of recovery committees, focussing on areas such as health and well-being, agriculture and livestock, business and tourism, infrastructure, waste and environment.
“We’ve got to get on the front foot on this, get rid of any red tape to get us moving forward and make it as easy as possible for people to get back on their feet,” said Cr Hayes.
“It’s a time when we have to look after our neighbours and treat people decently and gently.”